Obama promotes infrastructure investment at Port of New Orleans
At this pace, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden should be eligible to become honorary port directors.
On Friday, the Port of New Orleans served as the backdrop for the president's speech about his economic agenda and the importance of exports as a means for creating jobs. It is the fifth port the two leaders have visited this year.
Earlier this year, Obama spoke at the ports of Miami and Jacksonville, to drive home the theme that infrastructure investment is critical for growing the economy, creating jobs and competing for sales in overseas markets. During an appearance on "The Tonight Show," he also mentioned that deepening and widening port entrances is vital to maintaining the United States' position as a top trading nation. Vice President Biden in recent weeks has spoken at the ports of Baltimore, Savannah and Charleston, as well as at the CSX rail intermodal hub in northwest Ohio.
After touring the Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal, Obama told a crowd that investment in infrastructure, education and technology research are necessary for attracting global businesses and helping them flourish. China, Europe and Brazil are among the largest U.S. competitors in global markets that are laying the foundation for businesses to engage in trade at lower cost by modernizing and expanding their transportation and communication networks, he said.
The U.S. is "falling behind," he said. "We're relying on old stuff. I don't think we should have just old stuff. We should have some new stuff that is going to help us grow and keep pace with global competition."
As an example, he said the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2015 accelerates the need to dredge harbors so that bigger ships able to cross the passageway can reach East Coast and Gulf ports without having to leave cargo behind to ensure adequate draft.
In 2010, the White House created a stretch goal of doubling exports by 2015 by coordinating the activities of various agencies involved in export promotion to make it easier for companies to learn about and take advantage of federal resources, as well as partnering with ports and other groups to educate businesses at the local level about export opportunities and requirements.
Obama said congressional passage of a farm bill, an immigration reform bill and a full-year budget are three immediate steps that would help the economy and exports, noting that the fight in Washington over spending that led to the government shutdown last month is counterproductive since the deficit has been cut in half during the past three years.
The stalled farm bill, Obama said, would mean more business for the Port of New Orleans, which is the primary gateway for agriculture exports from the Midwest via the Mississippi River system.
"So what we have to do now is do what America has always done: Make some wise investments in our people and in our country that will help us grow over the long term. We should close wasteful tax loopholes that don’t help our jobs, don't grow our economy, and then invest that money in things that actually do create jobs and grow our economy. And one of those things is building new roads and bridges and schools and ports. That creates jobs. It puts people to work during the construction phase. And then it creates an infrastructure for our economy to succeed moving forward," Obama said, according to a White House transcript of his remarks.
The president said the infrastructure challenges span all modes, pointing to deteriorating bridges, highway congestion, and airport delays as areas that also need to be improved through investment.
Infrastructure investment will generate a big economic payback, Obama insisted.
"And anybody who says we can’t afford to pay for these things needs to realize we’re already paying for them," he said. "A lot of trucking companies now reroute their shipments to avoid traffic and unsafe bridges. So they’re going longer than they need to. That costs them money. So you’re paying for it. Those costs then get passed on to consumers. Or it means companies aren’t making as much of a profit and maybe they’ve got fewer employees. So directly or indirectly, we’re paying for it. And the longer we delay, the more we’ll pay."
Last month, the House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, reauthorizing Army Corps of Engineers programs for maintaining navigable waterways, inland waterways, locks and dams, flood control and environmental restoration. It also gives the green light to several port-deepening projects. The House and Senate must still produce and vote on a unified bill, which does not have any funding attached to it. Implementation will require the respective appropriations committees to agree on funding levels and revenue sources.
Congress is also set to debate the reauthorization of the MAP-21 surface transportation bill, which expires next September. Business groups have gained hope that the bill will include dedicated programs and funding for freight infrastructure, but a major sticking point is expected to be funding as gas tax receipts for the Highway Trust Fund diminish and fail to keep up with expanding needs.
Sixteen months ago, Obama directed that harbor-deepening projects at five major ports be put on a fast track for permitting and review. Two other land-side port projects were also made a priority along with 43 other projects of regional or national significance.
During the speech in New Orleans, Obama said if Congress adopted his proposal to reform the corporate tax code by closing loopholes for offshoring profits and creating incentives for manufacturers that establish facilities at home, "we could modernize our air traffic control system to keep planes running on time; modernize our power grids and pipelines so they survive storms; modernize our schools to prepare our kids for jobs of the future; modernize our ports so they can accommodate the new ships.
"The point is, rebuilding our infrastructure or educating our kids, funding basic research — they are not partisan issues, they're American issues. There used to be a broad consensus that these things were important to our economy. And we’ve got to get back to that mindset. We’ve got to move forward on these things together. It doesn't mean that there aren’t going to be disagreements on a whole bunch of stuff, but let’s work on the things we agree on."
For the visit to the port, Obama was accompanied by New Orleans Port CEO Gary LaGrange, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who has frequently criticized the president's policies, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Rep. Cedric Richmond, Ports America General Manager Keith Palmisano and a longshoreman.
The Port of New Orleans is using a $16.7 million federal TIGER grant to help develop an intermodal terminal by reconfiguring a 12-acre yard adjacent to the Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal. The new terminal will add 200,000 TEUs of capacity to Napoleon Avenue, bringing its total annual capacity to 840,000 TEUs.
During the tour, LaGrange told the President about the importance of deepening the Mississippi River from its current 45-to-47 foot draft to 50 feet, according to the port authority. It cited a recent economic study that a deeper Mississippi River channel would create $11.5 billion in U.S. production, generate 17,000 jobs and generate $89.40 in benefits for every dollar spent. The study was commissioned by the Big River Coalition and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development